Sunday, March 23, 2014

Preserving abandoned stories

Someone shared with me records from a locally abandoned prison complex, Essex County Penitentiary, later used as the Annex, in North Caldwell, New Jersey.  After people ceased to use the buildings, they fell into disrepair and people took unofficial tours of the historical grounds.  Records were left behind and sometimes people find them at garage sales in the area.  Great pictures of the buildings before demolition can be found on Abandoned But Not Forgotten; about halfway down are pictures of records left behind.  These lost records tell personal stories of local history.

The records are files of two inmates who arrived at the penitentiary on the same day, March 6, 1931.  These would be wonderful for their families to see.

Elizabeth Jackson, age 22, of 42 Shipman Street in Newark, was sentenced to four months for the crime of fornication.  (Can you imagine a time when this was a crime punishable by jail time?  This woman's jail records paint a personal picture of this prosecution.)

Sarah Steward, also known by other names, including Watkins and Douglas, age 25, of 274 Prince Street in Newark, was sentenced to three months for the crime of adultery.  (Makes you want to know who the married man was and how this act was discovered.)

Sarah Steward's troubles continued after her release.
In this letter from a nurse in New York City, we are provided with a more specific birth location:  Chrisfield, Maryland.

The staple in the upper left corner of the letters caused rust to stain the other documents in the file.

In researching both women, I found only one other record for Sarah Steward.  In the 1930 federal census, she was also in this jail, as per the warden's letter, and is enumerated on that schedule.

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